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Special Series: Technology and the CEO >> [Part 3] Technology Conveniences

In this third part of our series, a look at the basic needs for a campus community in the 21st century.

By Rosemary E. Jeffries, RSM

We all expect instant communication, ease and speed in computation, constant access to information, and lighter and smaller devices to travel with us everywhere. The conveniences of technology in the 21st century are expected like the hot and cold running water, electricity, heat, air conditioning, air travel, and 24-hour communication that made their way into our expectations through the 20th century. Each convenience of our modern society promised greater ease for living or greater ease for connecting people.

Today’s technology promises the same ease for living and, certainly, for access to information. It equally promises greater capability for connecting with people near and far, in consistent ways. Clearly, to attract, serve, and retain students and faculty in the technology-rich culture of this first decade of the 21st century will require staying current in a rapidly changing environment.

"For this generation of technology-savvy prospective students, nine o'clock in the evening is the best time to shop for a college."

In fact, the expectations for technology and the actual development of technological capacity are accelerating at an even faster rate than our 20th century conveniences. For example, commercial broadcast television developed and marketed in the 1920s took a long time to catch on. Now in the 21st century, about 98 percent of households have a television, and 70 percent or more households report having two or more televisions. Yet, it took 60 years or more for TV to become an expected household convenience (Source: 2004 World Almanac).

By contrast, Apple and IBM marketed the first personal computers in 1975, and by 2001, one billion PCs had been manufactured and sold. The next billion is expected to be shipped and sold within the next five to six years. By 2001, only 26 years after the first personal computers were introduced, 56 percent of households had a computer and 50 percent had an Internet connection (Source: 2004 World Almanac).

In about half the time it took television to become a major part of life, computers and the Internet are now expected elements of life. As we approach the midpoint of the first decade of the 21st century, the integration and influence of technology in everyday life—and definitely in the college campus world—is pervasive.

The accelerated inclusion of technology into household, work, and education environments increases the expectations of students and faculty coming to institutions of higher education. In these centers of learning and research, they expect not only the convenience of 21st century technology, but the access to technology that supports and keeps pace with their intellectual careers and their personal lives.

The traditional-aged students coming to college today grew up with technology, using computers in kindergarten, getting their own cell phones by 8th grade, and watching the first and second Iraqi conflicts, live, in their homes. This generation of students d'es not see technology as an added value in their lives; rather, they see technology as an expected convenience. As Howe and Strauss sum up in Millenials Go to College (Neil Howe and William Strauss, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers, 2003), “Millenials take digital technology for granted…institutions that are paleotech—not wired with powerful intranets, PowerPoint tools and the latest information retrieval systems—will face a real handicap when recruiting students, and not just in technology fields.”

Though faculty and older students did not grow up with technology in the same way, they too are users with clear expectations. Today’s faculty rely on technology to store and manipulate data easily, aid their research, facilitate their class management, and keep them in touch with students and colleagues. The older student, often returning to school while balancing work and family, expects the convenience of accessing class notes online, registering online, and, in general, staying connected through technology. Everyone has accepted the more accelerated pace of new technology as we watch technology prices come down, and PCs and other computing and communications devices become smaller and lighter and ever more convenient.

Beyond the campus, prospective students and faculty access their first glimpse of the campus through the Web presence available. Making Web presence and response compelling and engaging through personalization tools is as critical as providing stunning streaming video of the campus and campus activities. The use of portals facilitates the possibility of gaining immediate information about prospective students who are shopping the Web. Using e-mail response direct to the prospect launches an initial relationship between the institution and the student. In short, technology changes the recruitment business for students.

"To attract, serve, and retain students and faculty in this technology-rich culture will require staying current in a rapidly changing environment."

Technology also provides an initial view of the campus to a prospective faculty candidate, well in advance of the campus visit. The 24/7 access to information—and even communication for students and faculty through enhanced technology— accommodates each person’s schedule. The number of hits to our Web page between 9 and 10 pm is, on average, 6,450 per month. Nine o’clock in the evening is usually not the time most admissions folks answer inquiries; yet, for this generation of technology-savvy prospective students, nine in the evening is the best time to shop for a college. Faculty who find the 5:30 to 6:30 morning quiet time as the best time to post class assignments or bibliography are equally serviced by technology, which allows them to work when they feel most inspired. Technology enhances the exchange between faculty and students, while at the same time allowing for the differences in lifestyle.

How the 21st century campus uses technology to attract and serve students and faculty is clear and compelling. History tells us that the advancement of new devices for connecting and accessing information will improve at a rapid pace and will move beyond even what we can imagine. Keeping pace with the advances in this area is critical to keeping campuses current and cutting edge.

Yet, more important than the way it brings convenience to campus life, technology helps to establish immediate relationships that are essential to the 21st century campus, offering an initial relationship between the prospective student and the institution, or establishing a more consistent relationship between the enrolled student and the professor. Technology also launches the relationship between the prospective faculty candidate and the campus. It is these various relationships that support the ability of a college to attract students and faculty, but ultimately, technology enhances relationships that serve both students and faculty, and helps to retain their engagement with the campus.

With all the opportunity for connecting that it presents, technology in the 21st century is as important to campus life as running water and electricity. We have come to expect the convenience of instant messaging, constant access to information, and ease of connecting with other members of the campus community.

Technology can be a great factor in retaining, attracting, and ultimately serving the campus; yet, the capacity of technology to connect and create relationships to support community might be the most important advantage of this 21st century convenience. As Rosa Beth Moss Kanter concludes in her study of the virtual world, Evolve: Succeeding in the Digital Culture (Harvard Business School Press, 2001), “Community might seem a strange word to use in conjunction with the ever-expanding virtual world. But one of my most robust findings about e-culture is that it centers around strong communities, online and off.”

In her book, she outlines the hazards of the technology-saturated culture to human relationships, and ultimately, to social institutions. Briefly, Kanter cautions that the Internet can connect or isolate; it can enable community or it can destroy a community. As campuses depend more and more on the convenience of technology to connect students and faculty, and as technology facilitates access to information and the exchange of ideas through the virtual world, the caution to be wary of the ways technology can encourage isolation or be used as a means to undermine community needs to be included in technology planning.

Institutions of higher education are places that must help people navigate the virtual world in a way that is productive in the real world. Campuses need to provide state-of-the-art technology access while maintaining focus on establishing a learning environment that supports students who will become the educators, business and government leaders, researchers, and citizens of the world. Preparing students for roles in our new world requires more than knowledge of their chosen field and facility with technology; it requires a sense of community responsibility. As higher education continues to keep pace with the advances of technology to attract, serve, and retain students and faculty, may we not lose sight of a key part of our noble mission of education: to provide learning communities focused on preparing people for meaningful and productive lives for themselves and their civic and world community.

Rosemary E. Jeffries is president of Georgain Court University (NJ). SunGard SCT ( is the publisher of President to President: Views of Technology in Higher Education (2005) from which this article is excerpted, and is also corporate sponsor of the New Presidents program. Marylouise Fennell, co-editor of President to President, is coordinator of the New Presidents program, and senior counsel to the Council of Independent Colleges ( Scott D. Miller, co-editor of President to President, is president of Wesley College (DE), and chair of the program.

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